In today’s Gospel, (John 15:26-27; 16:12-15), Jesus speaks of the “Paraclete.” The word “paraclete” only appears in the Gospel of John. Five “Paraclete” passages appear in chapters 14-16, which are part of John’s Last Discourse (chapters 14-17). The expression, “Paraclete” does not appear in the rest of the Gospel.
The Greek paraklētos means “one called alongside.” Raymond Brown observes that it is difficult to find the right translation for paraklētos because within these five sayings there are a variety of functions that the Paraclete plays: witness to Jesus, spokesman for Jesus, consoler for the disciples, as well as teacher and guide of Jesus’ disciples.
The African Bible translates paraklētos as “Advocate,” while the Revised Standard translates the term “Counselor.” The Jerusalem Bible remains with “Paraclete.” Brown concludes that retaining “Paraclete,” is the best solution as no single word captures all the functions of John’s “Paraclete” (The Gospel According to John (i-xii), 180).
Thomas Aquinas prefers “Consoler,” because this “touches on His tenderness.” Thomas explains: “Since the Paraclete is the Love of God He makes us scorn earthly things and cling to God; and thus He takes away our pain and sadness and gives us joy in divine things: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace’ (Gal 5:22); and we read that the Church was walking ‘in the comfort of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 9:31)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2060).
In His Last Discourse, Jesus tells His disciples of the Paraclete, “… Whom I will send from the Father” (Jn 15:26). We might assume that the mission belongs to the Father and Jesus and is carried out by the Spirit.
According to Thomas, the Holy Spirit is “sent,” not in the sense that the mission is by “force but by origin.” In other words, the Spirit isn’t simply assigned tasks. Rather, just as the Spirit originates from the Father, so the Paraclete’s mission is rooted in His origin from the Father. This is similar to the way that Jesus is “sent” by the Father (1 Jn 4:14).
Thomas affirms that the Sprit is “sent”: “… to indicate His procession from another [coming from the Father], for the fact that He sanctifies the rational creature by indwelling He has from that other, from whom He has it that He is, just as it is from another that the Son has whatever He does” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2061). Just as the Son has everything that He has from the Father, so the Spirit has everything that He has from the Father.
Thomas affirms that the Father and the Son send the Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son together … the Father and the Son, who send the Spirit by the same and equal power… He mentions the Father as sending the Spirit, but not without the Son, as above (Jn 14:26): ‘The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name’; at other times He says that He Himself sends the Holy Spirit, but not without the Father: as here, whom I shall send to you from the Father, because whatever the Son does He has from the Father: “The Son cannot do anything of Himself’(Jn 5:19)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2061).
Jesus promises His disciples that the Paraclete will, “come” (Jn 15:26). Thomas Aquinas notes that when a person “comes,” the coming is freely, “willingly and on his or her own.” Jesus declares: “The Spirit blows where it wills” (Jn 3:8).
In coming to us, the Spirit doesn’t change His place since, according to the Book of Wisdom, the Spirit is already with us: “The Spirit of the Lord has filled the world” (Wis 1:7).
Thomas explains that when the Spirit “comes,“ He comes in a new way: “… by grace, the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in a new way in those He makes a temple of God: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’ (1 Cor 3:16)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2060).
The Spirit comes to us in Baptism and comes in an increased way in Confirmation, and the Spirit continues to come to us in new ways, even though He is already with us.
Thomas points out that when John declares that the Spirit “comes,” he is indicating “the grandeur of His divinity”: the “Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor 12:11) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2061).
The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son eternally: “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts” (Gal 4:6). And because the word ‘spirit’ (spiritus) suggests a kind of impulse and every motion produces an effect in harmony with its source (as heating makes something hot), it follows that the Holy Spirit makes those to whom He is sent like the one whose Spirit He is” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2062).
The Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth”: “He will teach you all truth” (Jn16:13): “Because He is the Spirit of the Son, He produces sons: ‘You have received the spirit of sonship’ (Rom 8:15).
Thomas asserts that the difference between the Son and the Spirit is based on their “origin”: “So we are left with the conclusion that they are distinguished only by the order of origin, that is to say, insofar as the birth of the Son is a principle of the procession of the Holy Spirit. And so, if the Holy Spirit were not from the Son, the Spirit would not be distinguished from the Son and procession would not be distinguished from birth… Thus, however the Holy Spirit is ordered to the Son, it can be concluded that the Spirit proceeds from the Son” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2064).
Thomas believes that the Father and the Son form one “principle” of the Spirit, although the Father gives it to the Son to be “principle” with Him, just as the Father makes the Son principle of creatures: “The Son with the Father is one principle of the Holy Spirit, as also of creatures. And although the Son has it from the Father that the Son is a principle of creatures, still creatures are said to be from the Son; and for the same reason it can be said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2065).
Thomas that this understanding allows us to say that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Gospel states that the Spirit, “proceeds from the Father,” instead of “from the Father and the Son.”
However, “In a similar way it is said, whom I shall send, and yet the Father is also understood to send, since there is added, from the Father… when the procession of the Holy Spirit is mentioned, the Son is always joined to the Father, and the Father to the Son; and so these different ways of expression indicate a distinction of persons” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2065).
Jesus announces that the Paraclete “will bear witness to Me” (Jn 15:26). Thomas explains that the Spirit will communicate to the disciples, “[the Spirit] … will teach the disciples and give them the confidence to bear witness: ‘For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (Mt 10:20).”
Thomas points out that the Spirit will communicate His teaching to those who believe in Christ: “God also bore witness by signs and miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb 2:4).
The Spirit also works within the persons to whom the disciples communicate: “The Spirit will soften the hearts of their hearers: ‘When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created’ (Ps 104:30)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2066).
Just as the Spirit “witnesses” so the disciples witness: “and you also are witnesses” (Jn 15:26). According to Thomas, the disciples will be “… inspired by the Holy Spirit: ‘You shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of this earth’ (Acts 1:8).” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2067).
The Acts of the Apostles describes this twofold witness: “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).
Jesus notes that the disciples’ ability to witness reflects their having been with Jesus from the “beginning”, “… because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Thomas comments that Jesus is indicating, “… the beginning of My preaching and working of miracles, and so you can testify to what you have seen and heard: ‘That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you’ (1 Jn 1:3). We can see from this that Christ did not perform miracles in His youth, as some apocryphal gospels relate but only from the time He called His disciples” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2067).
Jesus declares to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12). Thomas reflects: “The Spirit will also benefit you by instructing you. You need this instruction because It is like saying: I have instructed you, but you are not completely instructed” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2100).
Thomas acknowledges that “certain fine points about the mystery of the Incarnation and the other mysteries would not be presented to the uneducated” because they would actually be an obstacle to their faith. Jesus Himself only gradually revealed the truth of His equality with the Father and similar truths: “These things were the very truths of faith, not something else, but known in a more profound way.”
The disciples did not comprehend that Jesus must suffer and rise. Only after the Resurrection, did Jesus explain: “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Lk 24:45).
Jesus promises the disciples that the Paraclete will “lead you to all truth” (Jn 16:12). “For since the Holy Spirit is from the Truth, it is appropriate that the Spirit teach the truth, and make those He teaches like the one who sent Him. He says, all the truth, that is, the truth of the faith. He will teach them to have a better understanding of this truth in this life, and a fullness of understanding in eternal life, where we will know as we are known (see 1 Cor 13:12); ‘His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie’ (1 Jn 2:27)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2102).
Thomas asks whether the Spirit is a better teacher than the Son and concludes: “The Spirit will teach them by the power of the Father and the Son, for He will not speak from Himself, but from Me, because He will be from Me. Just as the Son does not act from Himself but from the Father, so the Holy Spirit, because He is from another, that is, from the Father and the Son, will not speak from Himself, but whatever He will hear by receiving knowledge as well as his essence from eternity, He will speak, not in a bodily way but by enlightening your minds from within: ‘I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her’ (Hos 2:14); ‘Let me hear what God the Lord will speak’ (Ps 85:8)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2103).
Thomas questions why Jesus declares that the Spirit “will hear” from the Son if the Spirit is eternally with the Son. He reflects: “Eternity includes all time. Consequently, the Holy Spirit, who hears from all eternity, is said to hear in the present, in the past, and in the future. Yet at times He is said to hear in the future because the knowledge in question concerns things that are still in the future. He will speak, therefore, whatever He will hear, for He will not only teach about things that are eternal, but future things. Thus He adds, He will declare to you the things that are to come, which is a characteristic of God: This is characteristic of the Holy Spirit: ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’ (Joel 2:28)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2104).
Jesus announces: “He will glorify me” (Jn 16:14). Thomas comments: ‘He will teach all truth,’ because He will glorify Me, in whom is all truth: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6); ‘In whom,’ that is, in Christ, ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col 2:3)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2106).
Thomas explains that the Spirit will move the disciples from a human way of knowing Christ to a spiritual way: “He will glorify Me, that is, give a clear knowledge of Me. He will do this, first of all, by enlightening the disciples: for they were still carnal and attached to Christ in a carnal way, that is, in the weakness of His flesh, not realizing the grandeur of His divinity. Later, they were able to grasp this through the Holy Spirit: ‘God has revealed to us through the Spirit’ (1 Cor 2:10)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2106).
Thomas affirms that the Spirit will also give the disciples “the confidence to preach clearly, openly.” Previously, they had been afraid, “But when they were filled with the Holy Spirit fear was cast out, and they proclaimed Christ to the people, being somehow impelled by that same Spirit: ‘He will come like a rushing stream, which the wind [or Spirit] of the Lord drives’ (Is 59:19). This is why the Apostle says: ‘The love of Christ impels us’ [2 Cor 5:14] )” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2106).
Thomas asserts that the Spirit will glorify Christ “by accomplishing marvelous works in and through the apostles: ‘All things are inspired by one and the same Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:11).”
Thomas maintains that the Spirit glorifies the Son because He is the principle of the Spirit: “The reason why the Holy Spirit will glorify Christ is because the Son is the principle of the Holy Spirit. For everything which is from another manifests that from which it is. Thus the Son manifests the Father because He is from the Father. And so because the Holy Spirit is from the Son, it is appropriate that the Spirit glorify the Son. He says, He will glorify Me, for He will receive from Me )” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2107).
The Son and the Spirit receive from the Father all They are from all eternity: “What the Son receives from the Father the Son has from eternity, and what the Holy Spirit receives from the Father and the Son, the Spirit has from eternity. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit receives from the Son like the Son receives from the Father: ‘What My Father has given to Me is greater than all’ (Jn 10:29). Thus, when the expression ‘to receive’ is used of the divinity, it indicates an order in origin” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2107).
Thomas explains that the Spirit receives all that the Son has just as the Son receives from the Father: “When He says, He will receive from Me, the word from (de, ‘from’ or ‘of’) does not indicate participation, but consubstantiality, because the Spirit receives all that the Son has. For just as the Son is from (de) the substance of the Father, because He receives the entire substance of the Father, so also the Holy Spirit is from (de) the substance of the Son because the Spirit receives the whole substance of the Son. Thus, because He will receive from Me, and I am the Word of God, therefore He will declare it to you” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2108).
Thomas affirms that the Spirit receives from the Son because of the Son’s unity with the Father: “Christ shows that the Holy Spirit received from Him because of the unity and consubstantiality of the Father and the Son. First, we see the consubstantiality of the Father and Son; secondly, the conclusion is drawn, therefore I said that He will receive from Me” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2109).
Thomas asserts: “He says: He will receive from Me because all that the Father has is Mine. This is like saying: Although the Spirit of truth proceeds from the Father, yet because all that the Father has is Mine, (and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father), the Spirit receives from Me” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2110).
The Father has given everything to the Son: “Whatever the Father has is the Son’s, because the Son has the same wisdom and the same goodness that the Father also has: ‘For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself, (Jn 5:26); ‘All things have been delivered to Me by My Father’ (Mt 11:27)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2110).
An objection might be made that the Son would then have the characteristic of the Father. Thomas affirms: “All that the Father has is the Son’s, except that by which the Father is distinguished from the Son. For by using the word Father, Christ declares that He is the Son, and has not usurped the attribute of fatherhood” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2111).
Thomas reflects upon the difference between Father and Son: “Whatever the Father has the Son has, but not that the Son has it in the same order as the Father. For the Son has as receiving from another; while the Father has as giving to another. Thus, the distinction is not in what is had, but in the order of having. Now relations of this kind, that is, of fatherhood and sonship, signify a distinction of order: for fatherhood signifies a giving to another and sonship a receiving from another” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2112).
Thomas continues: “Therefore, if fatherhood is compared to the essence of the Father, all that the Father has the Son has, because fatherhood is not other than the essence of the Father, but the Son does not have it in the same order” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2113).
Thomas elaborates on the receiving of the Son and Spirit: “The Holy Spirit receives from the Son. If all things which the Father has are the Son’s, and the Son is consubstantial to the Father, it is necessary that the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son as He proceeds from the Father” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2114).
Thomas maintains that there is a similar pattern in natural thing: “Among created things in every procession or origination that by which the agent acts or gives what it has is the same as what the recipient receives. For instance, fire which has been generated receives the form of fire which the generating fire gives it by its own form” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2114).
Unlike creatures, the divine Persons communicate their very nature: “There is something similar to this in the origin of the divine persons, because that by which the Father gives His nature to the Son (not by will, but by nature), is the same as that which He gives. Still there is an unlikeness in this way: in creatures, that which is communicated and that by which it is communicated is only the same in species, not the same individual; but in the divinity, what the Father gives to the Son and that by which He gives or communicates it is the same individual nature.” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2114).
The Father gives His divine nature to the Son and the Father and the Son give their divine nature to the Spirit: “The Son receives from (de) the substance of the Father, that is, He receives the substance of the Father; and we say that the Holy Spirit receives from the substance of the Father and the Son; and that the Father, by virtue of His nature, gives His substance to the Son, and the Father and the Son give to the Holy Spirit (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2115).
The Father and the Son give what is Theirs to the Spirit: “What is communicated to the Holy Spirit is what is common to the Father and the Son. Now in the divinity the principle of communication must be the same as what is communicated. And so if what is communicated to the Holy Spirit is as essence, that which communicates must be this essence. This essence, however, is common to the Father and the Son. So, if the Father gives His essence to the Holy Spirit, the Son must also do so. For this reason He says, all that the Father has is Mine. And if the Holy Spirit receives from the Father, He will also receive from the Son. And for this reason He says, therefore I said that He will receive from Me and declare it to you, for according as He receives from Me, so He will show you” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2115).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John, Part II, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.